On the Sunday night flight from Toronto, a quick turnaround after a week on the road that was almost a soft opening to a season that was meant to be a fresh start, Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan imagined what it would be like once they got to Fenway Park.
Bailey had a dozen games worth of the Fenway experience, but it wasn’t until last August, after injuries stuck a pin in the high hopes and expectations that came with his offseason arrival, that he made his debut in a Red Sox uniform.
He tried to put it in words.
“Obviously it’s a place where everybody wants to pitch,” Bailey said. “So that first time’s always special. It’s such an adrenaline rush, unlike anywhere else.”
For Hanrahan, everything was new. He had made 356 appearances in 28 ballparks but never at Fenway. He had no idea what to expect. Then he ran out for Opening Day introductions Monday, inhaling that adrenaline.
“I felt like it could be pretty good,” he said. “I wasn’t sure how the fans were going to be. I can tell after today, it was pretty exciting. They were pretty intense. It’s fun. It gives you that extra little adrenaline when they get up and they’re cheering for you. It was a lot of fun.”
Bailey worked a strong eighth inning and Hanrahan gave up a homer but got the save in the ninth in Boston’s 3-1 victory over the Orioles.
When Bailey took the mound in the eighth, the ballpark was still buzzing from Daniel Nava’s three-run home run the inning before, which had blown open what to that point had been a tense pitchers’ duel between Clay Buchholz and Orioles lefthander Wei-Yin Chen.
His job suddenly changed from making sure a scoreless game stayed that way to protecting a three-run lead for Hanrahan to inherit in the ninth.
“Coming into a ballgame like that just gives you that little extra adrenaline push,” Bailey said. “You’re warming up trying to throw a little harder.”
The first thing that flew out of his hand was a 95-mile-per-hour fastball that screamed on its way to Nate McLouth.
Everything else in the 1-2-3 inning — McLouth’s strikeout (looking) followed by Manny Machado’s (swinging) and then a Nick Markakis fly to center — was a blur.
Hanrahan came in, and despite giving up a leadoff home run to Adam Jones, a two-out double to JJ Hardy, and letting the tying run get to the plate in the form of Ryan Flaherty, he picked up his third save as a Red Sox, and his first at their storied ballpark.
“He’s a really intense guy when he’s out there,” said Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks. “I’m sure his emotions were running high, coming in at Fenway — first time ever in a game at Fenway. So it was great. He came out there and did a great job.”
For Hanrahan, who is now one shy of 100 saves for his career, the home run ball was a byproduct of a small gamble more than anything else. With the afternoon sun casting shadows on the field, he and catcher David Ross both noticed the late, futile swing Jones took at a 97-m.p.h. fastball, and with Hanrahan “bringing some cheese,” Ross said, he figured it was worth trying again.
“It was tough to see late in the game both hitting and catching,” Ross said. “So I was trying to play off that a little bit. When you’re throwing 99 and those shadows are out there, I thought we might be able to sneak one by him.”
As they watched the ball sail over the Monster, Ross and Hanrahan both realized it was a mistake.
“I probably should’ve [called] a slider right there,” Ross said.
It was the first run Hanrahan had allowed in four appearances this season, but the damage was minimal.
“He always says, ‘If I have a three-run lead, I just don’t want to give up three. I might give up one or give two, but I don’t want to give three,’ ” Sox right fielder Shane Victorino said. “And that’s the kind of stuff that you thrive on. If we’re up by one, he’s not going to give one and that’s his mentality, throw strikes, go after hitters. They made it close, but he was not going to let it happen.”
A new role in the eighth inning has done nothing to shake Bailey, the American League Rookie of the Year in 2009 as closer for the A’s when he recorded 26 saves.
“For me, I’ve still got a job to do, and that’s throw up a zero,” Bailey said. “The only thing that’s changed is the inning. For me, it’s still attacking the strike zone and getting ahead of guys and expanding from there. So for me, I still have a job to do, the inning just changed.”
He threw 14 pitches, 11 strikes. Aside from the curveball he started Markakis off with, he pumped in fastballs and cutters.
“I think as his outings have continued to mount, the arm strength continues to build,” said manager John Farrell. “The one [thing] that we’re seeing is the swing and miss to fastballs up in the strike zone, which really was his calling card when he was with Oakland. A lot of strikes, multiple pitches for strikes. To have really two closers out in that bullpen, it is a luxury.”
To Bailey, calling it just two would be selling the bullpen short.
“We’ve got seven closers down there,” he said. “So any one of us can finish a ballgame or pitch whatever inning. That’s what makes us so good is there’s so much versatility down there and if you need guys to come in with runners on in whatever situation, you’ve got a kitten litter full of them.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.